Are you ready to be ASTOUNDED ?!?
21 Fascinating Facts About Ancient Greece !
Get excited about History!
Ancient Greece is full of surprising and sometimes shocking stories!
If you’ve been following along with our FREE History Curriculum series, I think you’ll love the third of the 21 Fascinating Facts series!
If you need a little boost to get everyone excited about ancient history this year, try these Ancient Greece fascinating facts teasers!
This quick guide was specifically made to use along with each day’s lesson in the FREE Ancient Greece History Curriculum (or if you aren’t studying Ancient Greece this year, just to read for FUN!).
Little bites of information seem to be the things we remember. Maybe it’s because it sparks our interest and makes us hungry for more. That is why I wanted to write this series of posts. Start each lesson with one of these amazing facts and get EXCITED about learning this year!
Week 1: History of Hellas ?
Day 1- Greece or Hellas ?
Welcome to Hellas!
Home of the Hellenes, the countrymen of their namesake Hellen.
Not to be confused with the beautiful Helen of Troy. This Hellen was a guy. 😀
Clear as mud, right ?
The country most of us refer to as Greece, is more accurately called Hellas or the Hellenic Republic, both in ancient history and today!
So WHY in the world do we call this place Greece? In a nutshell, when the Romans took over, they called the region ‘Land of the Greeks’, or “Graecia” in their own language, Latin. And there ya have it!
Want to know more?
Click this link to read more about Why Ancient Greeks are called Hellenes !
Oh, and did you know sometimes Greece is called Ellada?
Wait. ANOTHER NAME ?!?!?
Here is a short video “Why Is Hellas/Ellada Called Greece In English?” that explains.
We have learned in this week’s lessons that the Ancient Greeks loved a good story! Poets, orators, actors, and philosophers spun tales to explain history, teach moral lessons, and sometimes just to make people laugh! This included the story of the Trojan War, and what was perhaps one of the biggest military sneak attacks ever! The Ancient Greeks fully accepted this to be part of their history. However, for most of the years since then, people have believed that this tale of war, intrigue, and love was just another entertaining myth of the Greeks. But was it ?
In 1870, a German man discovered the ruins of an ancient town in modern day Turkey. Most archaeologists now agree that it is probable that this indeed is the legendary city of Troy!
What do you think?
If this is indeed Troy, do you think the fabled battle occurred ?
Can you think of some other history “legends” that might be more factual than we thought?
Want to learn more?
A mound of dirt and Helen’s jewels ? Was this the famous city of Troy?
Click HERE to learn more.
Watch this short video below. Does it change your mind?
If you’d like to learn A LOT more about the city of Troy and the famous Trojan horse, you can watch the PBS episode- The Real Trojan Horse. It’s about 55 minutes. You can watch the full video HERE .
We’ve read much about the Trojan War and Homer’s epic poems, ‘The Iliad’ and ‘The Odyssey’ this week.
Were these people, places, and events Fact or Fiction ?
Did you come to a conclusion? There has never been a question among the Greeks. These ancient texts (first told orally), are the foundation of their culture, religion, and history. BUT did you know that within the pages of these tales were hidden some of the Ancient Greek’s best battle strategies? Yep. And perhaps even more surprising is the fact that even MODERN armies have used techniques from these perhaps mythical stories, on the battlefield! One REALLY FAMOUS military leader, Alexander the Great, not only used ideas from ‘The Iliad’ for battle strategies, he actually slept with it under his pillow every night!
Want to know more?
You can read more about the Ancient Greeks at war -> HERE .
Another fascinating fact is the archaeological discovery of the earliest known version of Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’ ! It’s super cool and you can read all about it HERE or watch a short video about the amazing below.
Week 2: Genius Greeks & Grammar Goals
Day 1- Get UP !!
How do you wake up in the morning? A lick on your face by your dog, a shake by your mother, a rooster, your little brother, or an annoyingly loud alarm clock? If you answered the annoyingly loud alarm clock, you have the Ancient Greeks to thank for that! Evidently, students have had difficulty waking up bright and early for a very long time 😀 As the story goes, the frustrated philosopher Plato invented the very first “alarm clock” for his pupils who were constantly late for his teachings!
Want to find out more?
YOU are a BARBARIAN! Unless you’re Greek of course!
You may have learned that though the Phoenicians were the creators of the first written language (with an alphabet of sorts), the Greeks were the first to figure out a written alphabet and numbers. The English word “alphabet” even comes from the Greek alpha and beta. The Greeks took the Phoenician letters and added symbols of their own to create vowel sounds. This same set of letters make up many roots of common words we still use today!
Greeks were very proud of their advancements in science, invention, and culture. They often viewed the rest of the world around them as “barbarians”, a word they made up to describe those ignorant of the Greek language, society, philosophy, and even their way of dressing! You an read more about this in the link below !
You can read more about here-
Have you ever seen the Greek alphabet ? You might be surprised what you recognize! Explore it more HERE .
I’m a barbarian, you’re a barbarian, unless you’re Greek (or perhaps Roman), you’re a barbarian too!
Where did the word “Barbarian” come from ? Find out HERE !
You might also like to try learning the Greek alphabet with this fun song (or others you can find on YouTube)!
Day 3- The Wisdom of a Naked Chicken !
Have you ever heard of the great philosophers of Ancient Greece- names like Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Pythagoras, and Diogenes ? They spent their hours studying the way things work, how the human heart behaves, answering the question ‘Why?’, and often teaching a group of students their ways of thinking. We have them to thank for things like the idea of social justice, democracy, the invention of clocks, and love it or not, MATHEMATICS !! 😀
Ok. You may have already known all that, but did you know the true wisdom that came from a NAKED CHICKEN ?!?!? Believe it or not, it is one of the stories of these ancient geniuses that has been studied and debated for centuries! Shocking but true! It has been said that “iron sharpens iron”. This means that we can benefit greatly from sharing our ideas, and being challenged by someone to either prove or disprove those ideas. Plato, who was a very formal academic, once taught his students that man was nothing more than a “featherless biped” (biped meaning 2 legged bird here). This was actually something he was repeating from another famous Greek philosopher (and also his teacher), Socrates. When Diogenes, a more common sense type of philosopher, heard this, he set out to show Plato the ridiculousness of his theory. He promptly plucked a poor chicken, and took it to the plaza where Plato was teaching. “Here’s your man!”, he yelled, holding up the naked bird. And iron sharpened iron.
You can read more about the wise Diogenes here-
The life of the cynic philosopher, Diogenes -> HERE
You can also watch this short video, Groovy Greeks- ‘Diogenes in a Barrel’ from the Horrible Histories series.
If you are averse to bodily functions this is NOT a video you would enjoy !!
Week 3: Greek Culture-
Tossing Apples, Flying Dinosaurs, and Olympic Sweat Collectors
Day 1- The Apple of My Eye
I’ve heard of bringing someone you’ve got a crush on a gift. A bouquet of pretty flowers, a box of chocolates, some homemade cookies… but throwing an apple at them? Hmmm…Not sure how that would turn out for you in today’s society. What do you think ?
But since we’re talking fascinating (or at least funny) facts about the Ancient Greeks in this series, we’ll try to relate. Did you know it was quite customary for a man to toss an apple at a woman whom he wanted to marry?
Yep! It’s true! And if she caught it, that meant she was definitely interested in the apple thrower and would say YES to his proposal! Yikes! I’d have had a hard time ever getting married. I’m not the most athletic, and have a hard time catching a basketball, much less an apple !! What if the lady accidentally missed the proposal apple? Tough life for those Ancient Greeks!
You can read more about those love apples and some other fascinating facts about Greek Culture here-
Day 2- Flying Dinos and Greek Mythology
The fearsome Griffin of Greek mythology…part lion, part eagle, and all together ferocious! They were admired as justice oriented, loyal creatures, always on the side of good, and often found depicted fiercely guarding some type of national treasure. Paintings, sculptures, and other images of this animal were seen prior to the Ancient Greek’s version of the Griffin, but it was a very important part of their culture’s mythology and belief system. We can see that in one well known account of Alexander the Great capturing a pair and taming them. He is said to have even taken one of those “domesticated” Griffin on a flight ! Believe it, or not…
For many years we have not. We’ve logically assumed these creatures to just be part of the ancient’s mythologies. More recently however, with the methodical documentation and discovery of full dinosaur skeletons, it appears quite possible that this flying lion eagle could have actually been FACT and not FICTION! So did a paleontologist find a full Griffin skeleton ? Sort of. What has been found is the full remains of a Protoceratops. The resemblance is quite similar. I can see how Pliny and other ancients might have struggled to describe what they were seeing! Click on a few of the links below to see pictures.
What do you think? Is the Griffin Fact or Fiction ?
See if any of these sources change your hypothesis.
Read more about the link between the Protoceratops and the Griffin HERE.
More information about the Ancient Griffin HERE.
Learn more about paleontology and understanding the fossil/myth connection-
Yep. True fact. Olympic sweat collecting was a real ancient Greek pastime. And an important one at that! Evidently, athletes were just as admired then as they are today. But imagine going on Amazon and ordering a jar of your favorite football player’s sweat! Ewwwww. That’s a big NO! for me. Gross. Anyway, the Ancient Greeks didn’t think it distasteful at all. Young men were hired to scrape off the sweat of the Olympians training in the gymnasiums. This fine specimen of body fluids and dead skin cells made the base for what many doctors of that time thought to be the cure for a variety of ailments.
Week 4: The Great Greek
Day 1- The Walls of Sparta are Alive !!
Though we refer to the whole region of the lower Mediterranean as “Ancient Greece”, it was actually made up of more than 100 smaller “city-states”. The two largest and most powerful were Athens and Sparta. Did you know that while both of these cities were part of Greece, they often were at war with each other?! The Athenians most highly valued education and the arts, while the Spartans were known throughout the whole “world” at that time as the most ferocious of warriors. Sparta was literally made up entirely of soldiers. Historians believe that they began training children as young as 7 years old skills for battle. This city was so certain of it’s military strength that it had no city walls to protect it. Instead, the army of Spartans stood in formations around the perimeter of the city, as a LIVING wall!
Day 2- The “Great” Greek
Most of you have probably heard of Alexander the Great. The “greatest” and most famous king and military leader in all of history. Ok, maybe not, but he would have given himself that title without a doubt. Not surprisingly as he (and many others) considered himself not to be a human, but a god…the son of Zeus to be exact.
So what made Alexander so “great” anyway?
Did you know that at only 19 years old he set out to conquer the world (starting with the Persian Empire)? And he nearly did just that! After more than 15 years of battles, Alexander never lost a SINGLE fight! Another fascinating fact about Alexander was the very unique way he spread Greek culture as he conquered each place. The waring was brutal, and his military leadership skill unprecedented, but what Alexander did afterward is what we can add to our “great” list! As a Greek through and through, he so appreciated the value of education for ALL people, that he even set up schools in the non-Greek regions he captured! After nearly conquering everywhere he set foot, and naming least 70 cities after himself (and one after his beloved horse!), Alexander the Great died unexpectedly. The cause of his death is one of those great mysteries of history many are still trying to solve to this day!
You can read more of what made Alexander so great below-
Alexander the Great (Also some Alexander the “not so great” facts!)
8 Surprising Facts About Alexander the Great
Day 3- Rome or Greece ?
Things just weren’t the same for Greece after Alexander’s death. Have you ever heard of the saying, “United we stand, divided we fall” ? This is what kind of happened to Greece. Alexander had conquered so much land that it was impossible to organize loyal rulers and defend all of the borders. During this time of disarray, another civilization was rising up on a small peninsula of land called Italy. It was Rome ! After the Romans battled for and won most of the territory of Ancient Greece for their own country, it is said to have been the “fall of Ancient Greece”.
Our fascinating fact today though is this-
Did you know that the Romans loved the Greek culture so much that they adopted most all of it as their own…including the language (for hundreds of years!), the style of dress, and even the Greek gods and goddesses? Of course the Romans had a culture of their own, but mixed the full Greek culture in readily!
Find out more !
–The “Fall” of Ancient Greece
-Also, here’s my free History of Ancient Rome series -> CLICK <-
*If you’d like to learn more about how the Romans adapted the Greek culture into almost every part of their own culture, this video is excellent. It’s geared toward adults, but I bet you’ll find it interesting too!
Week 5: Ancient Greece-
Bullets, Baked Goods, & Beans
Day 1- Better Bullets Than Our Buildings!
As we’ve read again and again about the great Greeks, they were some pretty proud and patriotic folks! Evidently, it wasn’t just the Ancient Greeks who were filled with nationalistic pride though.
Fascinating fact for today- do you know that during a fight with the Turks on the Acropolis in the early 1800’s, the Greeks actually offered the opposing army steel bullets, so that they would stop destroying the beautiful columns of the Parthenon ?!?! That’s the way the story goes anyway.
What do YOU think ? Fact or fiction ?
You can read more-
The full story can be found HERE !
The Parthenon, perched high on on top of the Acropolis, must have been an amazing site! No wonder the Greeks protected it so loyally! You can read more about that HERE !
Day 2- One Greek Word… Cheesecake !
Wait. What?!? Cheesecake isn’t a Greek word is it ? No, but the Greeks did invent the cheesecake ! This delicious dessert was first served to the Olympic athletes. Filled with protein from the cheese, and added honey, it made the perfect high energy snack for the sportsmen. It was such a popular treat, it became the custom for newly married couples to serve a cheesecake to visiting guests!
You can read more about this happy history HERE –
The Greek recipe for cheesecake is one of the oldest written recipes discovered! Want to try baking your own Greek Cheesecake? You can find a recipe HERE .
Day 3- Pythagoras and the Bad Beans
While the Greeks benefitted us greatly with their cheesecake contribution, most weren’t fans of the humble bean. That’s right. No baked beans, refried beans, or beans and rice for the Ancient Greeks. Many ancient societies thrived on eating beans, but not the Greeks. And although historians believe voting was done by each citizen by casting a bean for a vote, most thought them to be poisonous to eat. One famous Greek, Pythagoras, believing beans contained the souls of the dead, was so adverse to them, that avoiding them was the very cause of his death!
You can read more about Pythagoras and his fear of beans -> HERE.
And just for FUN…
Week 6: P**p, Pus, and Plague
(Sorry for the gross title, but it’s an accurate description for this week)
Day 1- You Wouldn’t Want to Get Sick in Ancient Greece
It isn’t shocking that the medical practices of the ancient world were quite different than modern ones. What IS a bit jarring however are the cures for whatever was ailing you. Most common treatment? Animal poo. Antelope poo, cow poo, bird poo, and pig poo. True story. Though the Ancient Greeks made some huge advances in science and mathematics, medicine still had a ways to go. Any man could call himself a doctor, so it isn’t surprising just how far fetched some of their antidotes really were. If rubbing stinky animal waste into an open wound isn’t bad enough, how about eating clay for an upset tummy? You might have thought those were the Fascinating Facts for the day. Nope. Here’s your history surprise today…
Most of the time, if the patient didn’t die from those treatments, they actually WORKED! Watch the video below to learn more about Hippocrates and how he contributed to modern medicine in so many ways!
Day 2- You wouldn’t want to be a doctor in Ancient Greece either !
In Day 1 this week, we learned how many amazing contributions Hippocrates made to the progress of health and modern medicine. He practiced (and taught) many ummm….interesting….techniques for diagnosing and curing the diseases that plagued the world of the Ancient Greeks. One of his popular methods involved tasting the bodily fluids from the sick patient. Yep. You read that right. TASTING them. Don’t worry. He also smelled them, as well as felt them. In theory, these practices, such as tasting the putrid pus, ear wax, urine, and even the VOMIT of an ill person were (believe it or not), a brilliant step in the right direction of medical diagnosis. These specimens really can tell doctors a lot about the wellness of a human being- but I’m thinking so much better under a microscope!!
So many thanks to Hippocrates for all his medical discoveries, but also so many thanks not to have been a patient, or especially a doctor, in Ancient Greece!!!
Want to know more?
You can read more about WHY Hippocrates tasted ear wax HERE
If you’d like to learn more about medical practices in Ancient Greece, you can check out this website -> HERE
You may also enjoy THIS article on Ancient Greek Medicine and Medicine Today. It is a bit more advanced, but really interesting !
After learning about some of the medical practices in Ancient Greece, it shouldn’t come as a shock to read about the horrible plague that swept through the Mediterranean region during the Peloponnesian War. While Athens and Sparta battled on, the citizens within the walls of Athens were suffering a terrible sickness. Some historians believe that it may have killed over 1/3 of the population, including Pericles! The historian Thucydides who was chronicling the history of the Peloponnesian War at the time, wrote about the symptoms that were afflicting the people in great detail. We believe his accounts were quite accurate, asThucydides himself became ill. He was one of the few lucky Athenians who recovered. Some scientists have guessed the disease to be small pox or bubonic plague. Others believe it was Typhoid Fever or possible ebola. Read/Explore more in the links below.
What do YOU think was the cause of the Great Plague of Athens ?
Want to read more?
You can explore more through this interactive site-> HERE
(The “next” button below the image of Thucydides will take you to the game)
Still curious ? Read Thucydides description of the plague and what disease it could have been ! HERE
Week 7: Final Fascinating Facts
(And maybe the BEST ONE yet- Day 3 !!)
Day 1- Aesop, a Slave from Samos?
Have you ever heard of the ‘Tortoise and the Hare’, or ‘The Country Mouse and the City Mouse’ stories? How about these sayings, “Slow and steady wins the race” and “Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched” ? If you have, you can thank the famous Greek Aesop. His fables which teach deep character lessons through cute furry animals are still being read by people today! But DID YOU KNOW that Aesop, the wise, articulate author, was actually a slave on the island of Samos ?!? He struggled most of his life to earn his freedom. Through his fabulous storytelling and intelligence, he was finally freed near the end of his life.
Want to know more ?
You can read some of Aesop’s Fables HERE ! They are short to read, and have a great truth to think about for the day.
Below is a video about the life and work of Aesop.
Day 2- The Mother of Invention is Necessity
What is one thing you can think of that you really NEED ?
Have you spent much time inventing it ? Probably not, but this quote is very true of the Ancient Greek age. We’ve read of some of the pretty amazing creations of the Ancient Greeks (like CHEESECAKE!!). So what do Ancient Greeks, cheesecake, and a big old bull dog have in common ?!?
Guess what ?!? Those spiked dog collars are not just a cool fashion statement for your doggo, but the invention of some pretty desperate Greek farmers and shepherds who were having great difficulty with wolves and other predators attacking and killing their dogs. Yep. Because they couldn’t just order something online to solve the problem, they invented the iconic spiked dog collar! Now you know. Isn’t history fascinating ?!?
Day 3- The Mystery of Saint Nicholas
Perhaps I’ve saved the best Ancient Greece fact for last! In a small Greek town called Myra (now modern Turkey), lived a young man named Nicholas. Orphaned when he was just a little boy, he had a deep compassion for the poor and needy, especially children. Nicholas was a Christian and decided that one way to honor God was to give generously to anyone that was hungry, or thirsty, or without what they needed. While he wasn’t a rich man himself, he had a great deal of faith. He often prayed and watched God miraculously provide what was needed. To this day, many of these incredible stories are still being told! One of the most well known stories about Nicholas’ giving, and God’s providing, includes a special night each year when Nicholas would quietly sneak through his village leaving handmade toys and gifts for each child.
Does that story sound familiar?
We know that Nicholas was surely a very good and kind person, but we don’t know much about the end of his life. And….
Many people believe he was the very first Santa Claus!
What do you think ?!?
Here’s hoping that you have a new appreciation for the Ancient Greeks… and more, you have learned how FASCINATING history can be!
Wishing you a wonderful year of living, loving, and learning together !